Food FYI: Cranberries

So I have a little story to share with you.  It happened on Thanksgiving Day.  As I've mentioned before, we do Thanksgiving dinner pot-luck style.  And cranberries were assigned out to someone. Well, that person forgot to bring them.  Oh snap.  K1 freaked out - "WHAT?!  NO CRANBERRIES ON THANKSGIVING?!"  She had to have cranberries.  Thankfully a willing party went to the store (thank you Smith's Food and Drug for being open that morning!) to grab some.

My question is, what's the big fuss over cranberries?  Why are they so important on Thanksgiving.  And so my research began.  The name cranberry derives from "craneberry", first named by early European settlers in America who felt the expanding flower, stem, calyx, and petals resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane.  Native Americans were the first to use cranberries as food. They used cranberries in a variety of foods, especially for pemmican, wound medicine and dye.

About 95% of cranberries are processed into products such as juice drinks, sauce, and sweetened dried cranberries. The remaining are sold fresh to consumers.  Cranberries are normally considered too sharp to be eaten plain and raw, as they are not only sour but bitter as well.  Cranberry juice is a major use of cranberries; it is usually either sweetened to make "cranberry juice cocktail" or blended with other fruit juices to reduce its natural severe tartness. Usually cranberries as fruit are cooked into a compote or jelly, known as cranberry sauce. Enter Thanksgiving dinner with roast turkey.  The berry is also used in baking (muffinssconescakes and breads). In baking it is often combined with orange or orange zest.  Fresh cranberries can be frozen at home, and will keep up to nine months; they can be used directly in recipes without thawing.

Raw cranberries have moderate levels of Vitamin Cdietary fiber and the essential dietary mineralmanganese, as well as a balanced profile of other essential micronutrients.  Raw cranberries are a source of polyphenol antioxidantsphytochemicals under active research for possible benefits to the cardiovascular system and immune system, and as anti-cancer agents, such as in isolated prostate cancer cells.  However, it is uncertain whether polyphenols and flavonoids account for the benefits of diets rich in plant-derived foods.

Cranberry juice contains a high molecular weight non-dializable material that might inhibit formation
of plaque by Streptococcus mutans pathogens that cause tooth decay.  Cranberry juice components also may possibly influence formation of kidney stones.  One study compared cranberries with twenty other fruits, showing that cranberries had a high amount of total polyphenols. Cranberry tannins have laboratory evidence for anti-clotting properties and may prevent recurring urinary tract infections in women.  Long-term tolerance is also an issue.  Raw cranberries and cranberry juice are abundant food sources of flavonoids such as proanthocyanidinsflavonols and quercetin. These compounds have shown possible activity as anti-cancer agents in vitro. 

So there you have it - the not-so-edible-in-raw-form cranberry!  Did you have cranberries with your Thanksgiving feast?  Here's my recipe for Cran-Raspberry Jello Salad!